For the Florida Gators, an overmatched New Mexico State team offered just that and more.
Carrying a roster loaded with youth, the Gators were presented with a great opportunity for many of their young players to get some live game experience in front of a packed, screaming orange and blue clad home crowd.
For Gator fans anxious for some offensive signs of life and continuity after several years of ineptitude, it was an opportunity for new head coach Jim McElwain to showcase exactly why he was hired.
While it was a fun night for fans and a rousing success on the scoreboard (61-13 victory), The Monday Morning Quarterback believes it was a great first step forward for many more reasons than simply yardage or points.
While admittedly, New Mexico State was far outclassed talent-wise and we’ve seen this act before (Gators won 65-0 over Eastern Michigan in the de facto opening game last season), this one was different.
Why, you say?
Well for starters, we witnessed offensive continuity, something that hasn’t been shown by a Florida Gators team since a guy named Tebow was winning championships and a Heisman in a Gator uni.
And the reason for that was more than just X’s and O’s.
First, the Gators didn’t stop themselves, they forced the opponent to do it.
This is extremely important.
The last few seasons the Gators biggest problem on offense wasn’t an inability to move the football. They did make plays here and there.
The bigger problem was that when they did start moving the football they always seemed to shoot themselves in the foot with drive killing penalties, turnovers, and drops by the receivers.
Against the Aggies, the Gators were penalized only once for ten yards.
Once… For only ten yards.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The Monday Morning Quarterback has been following Gator football since 1977 and I cannot remember any other time when the Gators finished a game with only one penalty.
Even in the championship seasons under Spurrier and Meyer the Gators always seemed to be one of the most penalized teams in the conference and in the nation.
Fortunately, those teams had enough firepower to overcome those silly mental mistakes. Muschamp’s teams were certainly not so lucky.
Time and again promising drives ended prematurely after losing momentum due to untimely penalties often in scoring position.
Another all-too-common issue the last few seasons was drops by the receivers, often coming on third down when simply catching the ball would have kept the drive alive.
On Saturday evening, the receivers caught nearly everything including a beautiful catch in the red zone by slot receiver Alvin Bailey on a pass that was poorly thrown behind him. He flipped around mid-stride and snagged the pass for a first down leading to a 3 yard touchdown run by true freshman Jordan Cronkite, his first in a Gator uniform.
Gator Nation witnessed, not so much an offensive juggernaut, but a disciplined offensive unit that executed well and played within itself.
So without having to overcome negative plays the Gators quarterbacks were able to get into and stay in a rhythm all night long.
The result was a well executed offensive display, which, while fans do need to temper expectations because it was against lowly New Mecico State, does give them hope moving forward.
In terms of X’s and O’s, Gator fans witnessed creative play calling that not only kept the defense off balance and featured all of its weapons but also allowed the quarterbacks to make quick decisions and use their athleticism to make plays.
For fans tired of dive plays, repetitive read options, and tons of horizontal throws, Saturday’s game offered a vertical passing game. The staff showed that you don’t have to throw low probability deep throws to get the ball downfield.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier actually accomplished what the previous three Gator OC’s could not: a schematic advantage a term coined by Muschamp’s first OC Charley Weiss.
And most importantly, they didn’t pull any punches. They threw the bus at the Aggies.
In previous seasons, the staff would put a very vanilla offense on the field in the first couple of games, presumably so as to not tip their hand on film for the SEC schedule.
The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that’s a bad idea when installing a new offense. It’s important to get game reps early and as often as possible to build confidence in your players and to get them reacting rather than thinking when you get into the meat of your schedule.
Against the Aggies the Gators had a good mix of dropback passing, play action, roll outs, misdirection, and naked bootlegs as well as a good mix of routes from deep to intermediate to quick screens and bubble screens.
They were able to get everybody involved in the offense. Fourteen different players caught passes and the quarterbacks finished a combined 30-37 for 382 yards and four touchdowns. They averaged a first down every time they completed a pass (10.3 yds/catch).
You’re going to win a lot of games with that kind of output.
Again, it was against a team with an extreme talent disadvantage, but it has to be encouraging for fans and players moving forward.
The main negative offensively was a somewhat shaky performance by the offensive line. There were missed assignments galore, particularly in blitz pick up, leaving the quarterbacks to scramble and hurry throws far more often than the staff would like.
They also had several snap problems particularly on shotgun snaps which could be problematic against the better teams on their schedule if they don’t get that worked out.
Perhaps it was due to first game jitters or perhaps it was due to guys playing out of position due to injuries or the staff moving guys around to find the right mix but The Monday Morning Quarterback believes this is a big cause for concern coming out of the season opener.
Certainly the staff will identify the issues during film study and work to overcome these issues before lining up against a much better opponent in East Carolina.
They had better because the SEC schedule presents a daunting defensive gauntlet for this young offensive unit.
Overall, though, The Monday Morning Quarterback believes it was a successful debut for new head coach Jim McElwain and his staff besides simply getting the victory and putting up 61 points, the most by any Florida head coach in their initial outing.
I’m The Monday Morning Quarterback and I’m out!